Our Southwest Road Trip Begins!

So life is beginning to settle back into the school routine (Boo Hoo!!).  Our camping gear has been cleaned up and put away and our laundry is finally done, so I have a little time to write about our amazing road trip adventure through the American Southwest.  It was epic- Eight National Parks as well as a few National Monuments, a month on the road, 7,500 miles in all.  We had a blast (with only a few mishaps!) Click here to see our basic road trip itinerary.

Our Southwest Road Trip Begins:

This itinerary was actually a last minute decision.  We had been planning to take a canoe camping trip through Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters, but high water and submerged park campsites caused us to make a change a few weeks before we left. Our oldest daughter, Sophie, really wanted to swim in the Pacific Ocean so she convinced me that we should head west. So with little time to plan, we set off with no reservations and hoped for the best.  This actually ended up working out well for us since it was off season for the area we were traveling to and we were able to have our pick of campsites and great deals on hotels. We were also able to be flexible in how long we wanted to stay at each destination which was really refreshing. During this adventure, we camped a little over two thirds of the time and stayed in hotels or cabins the other nights.  This was the perfect amount for this trip since being July it was HOT during much of our travels and we could escape the heat when it was hottest and cool off in air conditioned rooms and swimming pools.

Our first day was a long driving day, 650 miles in all, stopping at Clinton State Park in Lawrence, Kansas as the sun was starting to set. With hardly any other campers around on a beautiful Sunday night, we quickly made dinner and set up camp in this pretty little park.   The campsites are grassy and flat with picnic tables and fire pits. Deer were calmly grazing all over the place. Since hardly anyone was here, privacy wasn’t a concern, but if the park was full, we wouldn’t have had much.  There was a somewhat clean shower house and bathroom, and for 8 bucks, this is a campground I will return to when passing through to western destinations.  With miles of hiking and bike trails, boating and fishing, this park would be a nice place to spend the day, but we had miles we needed to burn so we basically just slept here. When the sun rose in the morning I went on a quick run and had the beautiful lake to myself. A great way to start the trip!

Our Southwest Road Trip: Clinton State Park- Lawrence, Kansas

Our Southwest Road Trip: Camping in Clinton State Park- Lawrence, Kansas

Our Southwest Road Trip: Clinton State Park- Lawrence, Kansas

Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site

Once we packed up in Lawrence, we only had to drive about a half hour for our first stop- the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. We arrived just as the building was opening at 9 am, and set about to explore the site which documents the end of legal segregation in public schools. (To read about our visit to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, click HERE.) There is no entry fee to enter this site, which is open daily from 9-5. As always, the national park service does such a fantastic job of making history accessible to people of all ages.  Maya and Garrett picked up free Junior Ranger booklets at the gift shop and we all worked together to complete the activities and earn the Junior Ranger badge.  We also picked up a couple of books to read on the long car ride. For me- Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality and for the kids- an especially poignant book of essays, Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone: The Brown V. Board of Education Decision. I highly recommend checking out the National Park Service website when planning a road trip to see if any National Park sites are on your route.  Not only is it a great way to break up the long miles, I guarantee you will learn something!

Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

Vail, Colorado

Once back on the road, we were looking forward to reaching Colorado since we love visiting this beautiful state! We all reminisced about breaking down in our rented RV the last time we drove through. Read about that mishap here! Luckily, this time our drive was uneventful and we arrived safe and sound to our hotel in breathtaking Vail.  Booking through Hotwire while on the road, we scored a great deal at the Comfort Inn Beaver Creek.  With nice sized rooms, and a generous selection at the included breakfast, we happily went out for a run the next morning through the beautiful Harry Nottingham Park close to the hotel.

Harry Nottingham Park- Vail, Colorado

Harry Nottingham Park- Vail, Colorado

With views like these, it was hard to leave the breathtaking views of Vail. We finally pulled ourselves away though to continue our route out west.  Next stop- Great Basin National Park in Nevada!

Have you taken a road trip through the American Southwest?  I’d love to hear about it!

Happy Travels!

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Written By

I love to plan family travel adventures with our four kids. Encouraging time in nature, National Parks travel, backpacking and hiking are my passions and I love to write about them.

10 Comments

  • It’s been a while since I last checked out your blog. I was hoping you had blogged more about your trip from last Summer! I’m looking forward to your next entry!

  • Lovely site! I found many common interests.
    The most recent being that my kids and I also just finished a Southwest Road Trip!
    No where near as many miles. I think it was just over 3,000 for ours, but I guess that was still a feat considering that we left from Southern California.
    Anyhow, it was a cousins trip and for one week we also had 4 kids with us (2 of mine 15 & 12, and 2 of my cousins 10 & 8) as we all explored New Mexico for the first time!
    Next road trip for my crew will be heading to Utah on a ski trip by way of Lake Tahoe!
    Does your family ski?

  • We have never canoed or camped in the Boundry Water area but we have been up near Lutsen & Grand Marais for a ski trip last Winter. http://www.visitcookcounty.com is a great website to get info for that area. Visiting the Boundry Waters is on our list of places to visit. We actually went camping up in the Apostle Islands this Summer & it was pretty amazing! We camped in Big Bay State Park which is on the main island Madeline Island. We went on a boat ride that took us around most of the smaller islands. They also took us to Sand Island & we got to kayak the sea caves which was amazing!! It was a trip we will never forget!

    • I am really looking forward to a canoe trip someday! I actually just looked in to visiting the Apostle Island ice caves this winter if the weather stays cold enough. The pics I’ve seen of this look amazing! I will definitely look up that site when planning our trip up north. Thanks for the link!

  • WOW, what a big trip! I also have been eagerly awaiting your blog about this summer’s adventures. SO glad to see you did so much!

    • I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted this! Along with adopting our puppy during our summer travels, after we returned home I started a new job, ran a couple marathons, subsequently got a stress fracture in my hip and just have been all around stretched for time! Things are finally settling though, and I will be back to writing up our report this week.

      • You’ve been just a little busy! 🙂 I hope you’re healing well from your injury. And now your next big summer adventure must be in the works. I’m putting the finishing touches on our trip itinerary — a loop around southern Colorado (and a little Utah): Denver, Manitou Springs, Great Sand Dunes, Durango, Mesa Verde, Arches, Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Denver. We’ll be camping in many of those places, except for visiting with my in-laws. I am going to try dehydrating some dinners (or maybe just ground beef) to avoid bringing a large cooler. You’ve been an inspiration in many ways!

  • I’ve been waiting for a new blog!! I cannot wait to read all about your trip. I hope your family gets to go on the canoe & camping trip next Summer. Northern Minnesota is beautiful!

    • I was so disappointed at first about Minnesota! Definitely planning a future trip, the pictures I’ve seen look amazing! Do you have any tips on best places to canoe camp?

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